Lenin

Lenin

Book rating: 05 Paperback Critical Lives (Reaktion Books)

By (author) Lars T. Lih

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  • Publisher: Reaktion Books
  • Format: Paperback | 240 pages
  • Dimensions: 130mm x 200mm x 18mm | 381g
  • Publication date: 15 May 2011
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 1861897936
  • ISBN 13: 9781861897930
  • Illustrations note: 55
  • Sales rank: 110,261

Product description

Lenin (1870-1924) was the leader of the communist Bolshevik party and founder of the Soviet Union. He was a key revolutionary thinker and a man who, at one time, lived in exile for his political views and survived several assassination attempts. The standard view of Lenin portrays him as a pessimist with a dismissive view of the revolutionary potential of the workers. In Lenin, Lars T. Lih presents a striking new interpretation, revealing that underneath the sharp polemics, Lenin was more a romantic enthusiast than a sour pragmatist, who imposed meaning on the whirlwind of events going on around him: the Russian proletariat were inspired by the prospect of socialism and went on to lead the Russian narod (the peasants in particular) to revolutionary victory. This concise biography of Lenin's life and outlook is based on wide-ranging new research that puts Lenin into the context both of Russian society and of the international socialist movement of the early twentieth century. It also sets the development of Lenin's political outlook firmly within the framework of his family background and private life. Using contemporary photographs, posters and drawings, Lih illustrates the emotional and physical features of Lenin's world. A non-partisan and vivid portrait of a pivotal figure in modern history, Lenin will appeal to scholars and general readers alike.

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Author information

Lars T. Lih is an independent scholar based in Montreal, Canada, who has written many articles on soviet history. He is the author of Bread and Authority in Russia, 1914-1921 (1990), co-editor of The Stalin-Molotov Letters, 1925-1936 (1995) and Lenin Rediscovered: 'What is to be Done?' In Context (2006).

Customer reviews

By John Smithee 26 Jun 2013 5

This is an excellent, well written and easily read biography of Lenin that succeeds in accurately portraying his life, political programme and also tackles and clarifies aspects of his legacy which are sometimes controversial and are frequently distorted.

Lih takes as his starting point the execution of Lenin's older brother Alexander for plotting the assassination of the Tsar and Lenin's determination to find `another way' to transform Russia. This leads Lih to build the framework for his biography which Lih sees as Lenin's constructed `heroic scenario': the construction of a social democratic party that becomes leader of the working class, the working class leads the narod (people) in the overthrow of Tsarism and, finally, the party and the working class lead the way to socialism. According to Lih, Lenin constructs this scenario in the early 1890's and sticks to it throughout his life.

Lih then constructs his biography based around Lenin's `heroic scenario'. This device, simple yet accurate, is used to explain Lenin's thoughts and actions over the next 3 decades.

Lih tackles issues such as controversy over the interpretation of Lenin's view of the spontanaiety of the working class in `What Is To Be Done?', although I would have liked more detail here, the Bolshevik attitude to the peasantry - seeing their revolutionary as opposed to counter-revolutionary potential. War Communism and grain requisition is also tackled and Lih shows how this was unlike Stalin's collectivisation programme - a charge of inspiration that is usually levelled at Lenin - and the paradox of the revolutionary democrat inhibiting democracy in the circumstances of the early 1920's. Lih is also very good at showing how Lenin was a follower of Karl Kautsky and a mainstream European social democrat and that it was social democracy, rather than Lenin, which changed in 1914.

Lih's view of the 'April Theses' as not being something of a break with previous Bolshevik thought is controversial and I would have liked to see his argument fleshed out a bit more. I would have liked to see more discussion on some of Lenin's works such as `State and Revolution' and `Imperialism', both are glossed over somewhat and there is no discussion of `Left-Wing Communism. An Infantile Disorder'. Some figures to compare Red and White Terrors would have been useful, although Lih tackles the issue of the Red Terror well by exploring the context and reality of what actually occured surrounding a now notorious telegram of Lenin's that urges mass executions, Lenin's Testament is also skimmed over and Kronstadt doesn't warrant a mention at all. Irritatingly, the book lacks an index.

Still, these gripes aside, this is an excellent counter to dominant and distorted narratives of Lenin.

Review quote

'Lars T Lih's short biography is hardly "Why Lenin was right", although it is no less dramatic for that. Lih advances some seldom-heard historical and political arguments in an unassuming, informative way ... This excellent book advises us not to congratulate ourselves on our hindsight.' - Owen Hatherley, The Guardian 'The book is aimed at a general audience. It is well written, accessible, and probably the snappiest book on Lenin in the English language.' - The NEP Era: Soviet Russia 1921-1928 'Any book that rejects the received wisdom that Lenin was intolerant, cruel and tyrannical, thus laying the basis for the inevitable rise of Stalinism, is to be welcomed. As such, Lars T Lih's concise biography of Lenin is a useful addition.' - Socialist Review 'This is an important contribution to our understanding of Lenin ... This slim volume is a welcome contribution to the battle to combat the lies and myths of both the Stalinist tradition and the right wing opponents of Bolshevism. The scholarly research which informs it makes it a valuable addition to anyone's library.' - Socialist Alternative 'Lih's biography is both an excellent introduction to Lenin and a provocative interpretation that will challenge those familiar with his life and work.' - New Socialist, Canada 'Lars T Lih's excellent short biography of Lenin is a welcome addition to the serious socialist literature on classical Marxist history. Although it contains some nuggets from the archives and some references to interesting but lesser known contemporary sources, the book's chief merits are its strongly contextual interpretation of Lenin's life and its readable style.' - Worker's Liberty 'A carefully drawn, subtle yet compelling portrait of a revolutionary. This is probably the best and most reliable treatment we have had on Lenin in many decades, and it will fill a fair gap for scholars, students and the general public.' - Professor Ronald Suny, University of Michigan, author of The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR and the Successor States 'A scholarly, highly accessible book. It uniquely links Lenin to a political project for human liberation ... the best treatment of Lenin and his ideas I have seen in recent years.' - Immanuel Ness, Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College, City University of New York